TGS 2009: Hands-on: Army of Two: The 40th Day

Andrew: "Oh my god, you shot her in the face!"
Ross: "Hey, we're an army of two. I don't want a third wheel."

Seconds after booting up the Tokyo Game Show demo of Army of Two: The 40th Day, we managed to completely botch a hostage "rescue" operation, while brutally murdering the four terrorists involved. Our morality meter went down quite significantly after that, we're sure. Had we managed to progress with some more finesse, we would've been able to sneak behind two enemies, grab them and "negotiate" a solution for the others. Is there a morally "good" way out of a situation like that? Perhaps, but we'll never know.

While it's easy to simply accuse Ross of insatiable bloodthirstiness, his less-than-graceful approach at this scenario could be blamed on the (admittedly early) build's choppy framerate, and the sometimes confusing controls. Ross found it difficult to stick to cover, and move from one place to another; I found myself inadvertently switching between crouching, cover and something in between.
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It's clear that there are some serious refinements needed before the game ships early next year. In addition to steadying the framerate, EA needs to focus on adding some more detail to the world. The visuals simply don't have the polish of a high-profile title like Gears of War 2.

But beyond the glitchy tech and the unintuitive controls, we still see some potential for The 40th Day. From the get-go of the demo, it's evident that the tone of the sequel is darker, and far more mature than the first. Morality choices may be the game design mechanic du jour, but it's successful for a reason: the hostage situation at the demo's start was intense and nerve wracking. The level design especially feels much more dynamic and interesting than before.

For example, the demo presented a complex with intersecting walkways on multiple levels. Taking advantage of the level's height becomes crucial to victory: one player can draw aggro while the other tries to sneak above and fire at enemies below. At one point in the demo, I was able to run below an enemy on a walkway above, and fire away at his legs.


Too bad the demo was so short. We had just started to get acclimated to the oddities of the game's controls, and started to become a bit more ambitious in our teamwork. At one point, we were caught off guard by enemies that had appeared in the walkways above us. Ross rushed forward, started firing at them to gain aggro, as I made my way around the stairs and started to melee them one by one. (Once again, the game's melee is overly efficient.) We made quick work of the game's "heavy" enemy type, and eventually, Ross found a sniper rifle ...

And he made quick work of the remaining enemies.

Army of Two: The 40th Day has a lot of promise, but it must overcome a lot of (largely technical) issues before we can really fairly judge it. The level design encourages much better two-player co-operation than the first game, and the grittier look is far more compelling. We still have our reservations, but we certainly want to play more before the game releases early next year.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.